17 June 2020

Last Tourist in Hanoi

An interview with local Aspiring Photographer, Stella Nguyen, IG @JpegbyStella,  coming soon! 

“The best journeys in life are those that answer questions you never thought to ask.” 
~ Rich Ridgeway

I've been extremely grateful and impressed with Vietnam and how they have handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Things are just about back to normal and businesses are hustling and the people are back in the streets. I see fewer and fewer people venturing out with masks on. So much so, that I often forget to grab mine before leaving my hotel.

But the one thing that remains empty in the streets are tourists. Hanoi is still devoid of tourists. Am I the last remaining tourist here? I don't know. I haven't seen any immigration stats that prove or disprove that, but it damn sure feels like it. I have seen non-Vietnamese people from all over, but they live here. And I did meet a really great guy who arrived here about the same time I did, Char Bel from Lebanon. He's been traveling the world much like myself, but he just recently left Hanoi.

Char Bel introduced me to some of his peeps. He invited me to a comedy club where comedians excoriated the US. I couldn't say shit because everything they said was true and funny. That, and my dumb ass had to shout out something when a guy on stage said something about Texas. Now everybody knew where the US guy was and they always checked out to see how I was handling the latest joke. We've certainly giving them enough material to work with between the riots, the protests, how we're handling the pandemic, and of course everything tweeted from the White House.
Hanging out with some great peeps at Hanoi Social Club


“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” 
~ Lawrence Block

I am the trifecta here. A black tourist from the US. Everybody wants a perspective on what is going on in the United States. Did your president really mean that? Are your people really fighting over toilet paper? Is the police really killing black people? Why do the white people hate you so much? I do my best to be an ambassador for my country. I've been questioned like this EVERY where I go. I've ALWAYS had some sort of answer or explanation that either comforts or better informs. "Do you actually believe, us Canadians, are a National Security threat to the US?" That was in 2018 in Colombia speaking to Canadian tourists in a cooking class I photographed for promotional work for a restaurant.

Recently, however, I was put to shame by a question a young lady asked me, for which I had not answer. There was nothing I could say to comfort and nothing I could say that informed her of any worthwhile reasoning that she simply wasn't privy to. There was no media misinterpretations and nothing was taken out of context.



The young woman could not understand the US. She asked me how the people of Vietnam has treated me. I have been applauding the treatment I've received since I've been here. She went on to tell me that even despite the War, Vietnamese people are very nice and kind and we do not mistreat foreigners. I agreed with her. I have heard of no reports of that sort of mistreatment. Then she asked why Asian people in the US could not expect the same sort of treatment.

I was stunned into silence. I knew what she was referring to. She alluded to all the instances of racial attacks on Asian-Americans, regardless of exactly where they come from, as responsible for Covid-19.

Authorities in New York City and Los Angeles say that hate incidents against people of Asian descent have increased, while a reporting centre run by advocacy groups and San Francisco State University says it received over 1,700 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination from at least 45 US states since it launched in March.
"Coronavirus: What attacks on Asians reveal about American identity" by Helier Cheung & Zhaoyin Feng & Boer Deng, BBC News 27 May 2020

Hate crimes, Anti-Asian assaults, prejudices, and xenophobia rose significantly over the last few months and the title of that article raises a good question. What does this reveal about the American identity? What are we really? All I could say to the young lady was, "I'm sorry. I am so friggin' sorry..." I suddenly felt like I did not belong in this country or deserve to be here. Vietnam has been one of, if not the BEST country to be in, if you want to sit out the Coronavirus. I've been fortunate to be here and have been treated with the utmost respect and professionalism.

It was a heart-breaking experience and this was not long before the policemen murdered George Floyd. Can you feel me? It's like I come to your house and you give me your best room and feed me well. But when you come to my house, my people treat you with mistrust and try to run you down in the road.

I don't know everything there is to know about Vietnam. I only know what I see and what I learn from these great people here who tell me what they think about their country. Everyday, I remember Muhammad Ali when he refused the draft citing he had no quarrel with the Vietnamese people as they have never called him a nigga. My 2020 motto so far... as I find myself often saying has simply been, "Thanks, Vietnam".

I've been extended until August here and am grateful for it. Yet, I am in no hurry to leave. I am not trying to live here, but I would sincerely like to stay for another year, traveling the country and taking pictures. One good year, moving from one end to the other, traveling as slow as I want, stopping where I want, and just taking my time photographing the beauty of Vietnam. I'm doing an online photography landscape course and I want the Vietnam landscape to be the culmination of my study. No clue on how to qualify for either a year-long tourist Visa or a Business Visa. I hope to find out soon and be like the other foreigners who have figured out how to stay. 




22 May 2020

My Top 3 Passions Part 3 - Landscapes


Northern Colombia, ©2018 Terrell Neasley

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
~ Marcel Proust

It has certainly been a joy to write about this Passion Series. I've tried to articulate what and why these genres are important to me, but after re-reading them, I've only scratched the surface. There are still so much to say on each of these matters. I've only been able to succinctly present my reasoning after I realized one critical truth; It is not imperative that I explain everything. 

That being said, any artist wants to share themselves with the world, at least in part; otherwise why be an artist? If I can find a way to spend my time combining these three loves, that's the dream. I don't know a greater fulfillment, with respect to an artistic perspective, that anyone can hope for. It may not compare to being in love, seeing your firstborn coming into the world, looking into your mother's eyes when she's happy, or witnessing the fulfillment of your faith. But you and I are more than just one of ourselves. There are different aspects of each of us.

Landscape is the third passion of mine in photography. You can't do photography without a place to put what you are photographing. Certainly, you can build a place, of course. I loved spending time in my studio back in Las Vegas. It is a controlled environment, but it is finite. Getting out in nature... in natural settings... that is where the vast infinity of the world lies. I sell more portraiture than landscapes or nudes, but I make much more money with my landscapes than any other single piece of art. I think it means more to me when a client has a landscape of mine hanging on their walls. They've paid significantly more for it and they've made an investment into me. I owe them the best I can do. It's not the same when they hire me to take their portrait and hang themselves on their walls. When they buy my landscape, they hang a piece of me and the story I've told about my adventures and the places I've seen, on display in their homes and businesses.

Western Highland, Guatemala ©2018 Terrell Neasley

Landscape is the is the first and original creation. Before we ever were... landscape was. Landscape is something I had to learn to see. I wasn't born with an "eye" for it. I had to learn, practice, and cultivated that vision. My idea of landscape was the vast mountains of Colorado, or the seascapes of New England with its beaches and lighthouses. I was in Kentucky at the time. I didn't think landscape existed there. Some nice pictures could be had from time to time, but not artistic landscapes. Or so, I thought. I've since learned better. For me, I had to get out from where I was and then look back. It's something akin to getting high above the forest to actually see the vastness of the woods. It has a an infinite degree of compositional dimensions. Let me touch on a few:

Landscape takes on a different life at night than it does during the day. That's another degree of infinity. Therefore, time is a chronological compositional dimension. At night, the nocturnal activities, the atmosphere, and your attitude about the landscape takes on another persona, much like a split personality. Seasonal differences can be another aspect of that. A fall scene in Middle Tennessee going East on Interstate 40 from Nashville is something to behold. The leaves are changing to their splendid and vibrant fall colors. Do that same drive 3 months later and you lose it all. 

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala ©2018 Terrell Neasley

Landscape in Ecuador will be different from landscape in Egypt. Therefore geography is an obvious infinite degree of compositional dimension. This is one of a few factors that drive my desire to travel. I want to see God's creation in the different parts of the globe for two reasons. One, is the beauty of the creation itself. Two, I get to witness and better understand the impact that the landscape has on the culture and evolution of the people who make their home in these places. It was an humbling moment to witness a little old woman in Germany kick my ass walking up a mountain carrying a bundle of something that I can only imagine she's done a million times over her life. She was every bit the size of a Hobbit, and yet she walked past me and my crew like we were walking backwards up that mountain. 

"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."
~ Frank Lloyd Wright

Landscape can be active or static. In a sense, it is always changing. I mean... technically, plate tectonics cause continental drift as fast as 2 inches a year. New landmass is being created all the time in one place and destroyed in another. Circle of Life. But you can look at photos of the Old West of the 1800's and hold it against the horizon of the same place today and not much has changed. It's static. Look at a glacial landscape of just 20 years ago... not so static. It's much more dynamic (thanks to Climate Change).  

Landscape can also be affected by the weather. One location can be vastly different when taken on a cloudy day versus in the full sun. Try shooting in inclement  weather! Landscape became alive to me after I moved to Las Vegas and saw Valley of Fire and Red Rock. I moved there during the summer. But years later, when we got a good snow, the Red Rock mountains were covered in white and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I've witnessed on land. But hey... keep living! And then you can look at the affect animals have on landscape. Google how Yellowstone changed after wolves were reintroduced. Ask the folks down in Ushuaia, Argentina how beavers, an invasive species there, has changed it's landscape

Nevada Deserts ©2013 Terrell Neasley

Landscape doesn't have to be shot with a wide-angle lens. I still like fast lenses for it, but it's not imperative. I shoot with a 24 and a 55. BUT, I can shoot vertical orientation with an L-Bracket and a tripod and stitch multiple shots together for a high-resolution pano that renders more detail and less distortion than what a single shot wide-angle lens can deliver. Ansel Adams is perhaps the best known landscape photographer. He got his detail from hiking a Large Format Camera around the mountains of Yosemite. I can't imagine what that's like. Hauling a huge camera up and down elevation changes of thousands of feet and limited to maybe 6 shots.

Landscape doesn't care about you. It's indifferent and doesn't even recognize you. And it is for this reason that you must respect it and cherish it when you, because it does recognize what you do to it. Sometimes, there are sacrifices it demands of you if you want your shot. I've been stupid. Too stupid. In one instance, I risked my life and the shot did not prove remarkable. But how could I know until I took it. Understand the risks you take when you love something or someone that much. Passion, like a coin, has two sides. But if you don't let it kill you, can you ever say you loved it?

And there you have it. My top 3 passions of photography. I hope you can identify with them, as well. If not, I encourage you to explore a little bit. Don't stop learning. I'm presently enrolled in an online landscaping course with someone I believe I can learn from. You will learn so much about yourself and further advance your understanding of light. And I will try to get over my inability, in some instances, where I can't take a landscape photo without a nude model. No promises...

Thank you.

Art Model, Viki Vegas, Nude in Landscape, ©2011 Terrell Neasley

17 May 2020

My Top 3 Passions Part 2 - The Nude

Art Model, @Kayci.Lee, ©2018 Terrell Neasley

"Life is either a great adventure or nothing."
~Helen Keller 

Indeed, the truth is that it all began with with The Portrait, but it is The Nude which has sustained me. Faces are what drew me in, captivated my attention, and piqued my interest. The Nude is what made me promise to commit to the art of photography and strive to better my understanding of light and how it falls on the female figure. Then it stretched my imagination on the infinite methods I might employ to capture it.

Like a hunter, my quest begins with the tools I might use to snare my prey... how to choose them and how to use those tools. Camera selection, lens selection, composition, etcetera. I learn to perfect my skill with each pursuit of the light. I think that's an interesting analogy, but remember the subject in this sense is light, not the model. I'm trying to capture the light to make nude art. Therefore, it is as imperative to understand my relationship with the model as much as it is for me to understand my camera, my quary (light), and also myself. The nude is not about a naked model, it's about the art she helps create.

Art Model, @Kayci.Lee, ©2018 Terrell Neasley

To capture this light, I need the collaborative effort of a model. We hunt as a pair. She flushes out the light, while I wait for the decisive moment to shoot. Can you feel me? It is all in vain if there is a failure anywhere in that collaboration, be it in the model, myself, or my camera. I've had upsets in all 3 areas over the years, but I have gotten better at making adjustments. I can help direct the model and work within her capabilities. I can hone my own skills. And in many cases, where there is a failure in the equipment, I have been able to circumvent and make due to accomplish the goal. And yes, sometimes that means, fix it in post, but I hate that. I want as much as I can get out of the camera. Man! I could tell you stories!

There have been some instances where it was the model who saved the day. Maybe she has a particular means of inspiration, knowledge of a location, or just has the right attitude that helps salvage the project. I've experienced all of this and more. The art is what matters. Nothing else. Sure, model safety and comfort are never a second priority to anything. Aside from that, it is the art. She might brave the cold, be willing to get messy, or lend to the art with some other unique talent that adds to and compliments my vision. That's what a muse does.

Art Model, @Kayci.Lee, ©2018 Terrell Neasley

The nude transcends superficial attributes like debates over societal norms and taboos. Some debate over the difference between nude and naked. I like to keep it simple and this is just me. A nude can be naked, but not all that is naked can be a nude... like a Rolls Royce can be a car, but not all cars can be a Rolls. There is a difference with taking a photo of a naked girl. That just means she's not wearing clothes. To me, the nude is an evolved form of nakedness that has a degree of deeper purpose. If naked is 2 dimensional, the Nude is 3D. You can be naked to take a shower or sunbathe. The nude is about creation. You are creating something that is expected to last and is born of imagination, vision, and will, with the latter being of utmost importance. You can have an idea with your imagination and you vision can help you plan it. But it all comes down to the will to execute that sparks creation. Therein lies your Big Bang.

And it is this phenomenon that has helped me like a therapist over the years which has made me evolve myself and my cameras. My brother's thing was fishing. I have friends whose lives revolve around sports. Some people out of desperation have a more destructive crutch and become dependent on chemical means of coping. 

All my adult young life was built on violence of action. As an infantryman, a soldier, I trained to be elite. I wanted to be the best, or at least the best I could be. To me, that was becoming a US Army Ranger and I have always been good with shooting guns since my childhood days. I don't care what it was. If it launched a projectile, I could put it on target and make a mess of something.

Art Model, Jennifer ©2019 Terrell Neasley

"As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn't do."
~Zachary Scott






Now, I shoot something that creates instead of destroys. It brings peace, instead of destruction. I don't touch guns anymore. I got out of the military in 1998 and 1999 was my last time to touch a weapon. Six years after that, I picked up a camera and it had the same affect as the M-16. Both felt like an extension of my arm and my body. Instead of pulling a trigger, I pushed a shutter release button. Instead of aiming to kill, I aim to thrill. I still look down the sights/viewfinder to find my target and I go hunting for the light. The art nude is my favorite drug of choice and I do not tire of it.

Favorite genre of nude to shoot? Well, I have two. I love shooting nudes in nature and natural surroundings. But equally so, I absolutely adore shooting a nude model indoors doing ordinary things, just being naked. Be it lounging, household activities, or even sleeping (I love love love capturing a sleeping nude!) these are my favorite ways of baiting the light. I can have a camera on her 24/7. Also nudes in public, but they are much tougher to do. 

Basically, I am a byproduct of inspiration from Edward Weston who shot nudes on his adventure out west, Harry Callahan, who shot nudes close to home, and also Spencer Tunick, who shoots nudes en masse all over the world. The first two shot their wives who are two of my favorite model inspirations... Charis Wilson and Eleanor Callahan, respectively. Charis put photography on the map as an art form since she wrote the proposal for Weston to get the first two Guggenheim Fellowship grants ever awarded to a photographer. Eleanor is like a muse mold. You start with her.
 “I never refused when he wanted to take a picture,” said Eleanor Callahan, the 91-year-old widow of the photographer Harry Callahan. “I never complained, whatever I was doing." ~ Eleanor Callahan, "The Artist's Wife: The Constant Muse Who Never Said No",  NYTimes, Oct 2, 2007.

Art Model, Jennifer ©2019 Terrell Neasley

Least Favorite?
Implied. I generally can't stand implied nudes. It's one thing if a few implied nudes are wrapped up in my regular shooting, but if I'm doing only implieds, then I'm getting paid and will be happy to do it. Otherwise, I can't often use it in my art and I have no motivation for it. Conceptually, I don't think I even understand it. If everything is hidden, why do nudes? I don't knock it when other shooters or models do it. I have the utmost respect for all my peers who do this. It's just not for me. I work best when I'm able to shoot with options to imagine and then create it. The less restrictions, the better. If it pops into my mind, I like the freedom to explore it, experiment with it, and see if it works. Sometimes, it doesn't but I learn more from what doesn't work than I do with what does. 

Art Model, Jennifer ©2019 Terrell Neasley
















Biggest challenges? Right now? Finding models to work with! In the U.S., I almost always had a nude model available to me... concentrating on one woman or several. Over the years, I have shot less and less different models. I'd average about 10 models a month when I first began. Over the years, that dwindled down to a select few as I tended to work more with familiar models instead of new models. But I'm traveling now and that has made things just a little bit tougher. In two years, I've photographed only 3 travel models... none of them being locals, to my chagrin. Kayci.Lee came with me for a month, Jennifer met me in Peru, and I met Athena, who was already there, on my second trip through Peru... all American women. It would be nice to shoot a local model, but I honestly don't care. The one who shows up gets my appreciation. My preference is shooting the same woman all over the world. I think there's more art to be made from that. A grand adventure story can build from it. 

How are my nudes different? I think I differentiate in several ways. One is that I tend to work with a myriad of different women of various body shapes, ages, and sizes. I've photographed large heavy women as well as tiny ones. I've worked with women in their 70's and one woman who turned 18 years of age the day before our first shoot. I don't think I need the "perfect" body or a cover girl model in order to make my art.

Art Model, @Athena Demos ©2019 Terrell Neasley

One other way is that I don't shy away from explicit nude work. To me, the nude is the nude. I've often said, I shoot all the nude, the whole nude, and nothing but the nude. I am noted for doing macro vulva and nipple work as much as I do far away nudes where you don't even notice the naked woman in the landscape upon first glance. I thoroughly enjoy my macro work and it's a whole new universe within itself. The different textures of a labia or nipple are brought out in the close-up and it becomes an abstract composition to where, at times, the subject becomes lost and something entirely new is created. I once had a man complement me on a shot he thought was aerial view of a mountain range, when in fact, it was a macro composition of a woman's areola

It was a model, the second I had ever worked with who taught me this. She was an art model for the drawing class at Murray State University. As a beginner, I was far too modest as a shooter. I had to make sure the nude model had her legs together to protect her virtue. When she took a pose that exposed her genitalia, I tried to object. She insisted that I take the shot as if I had offended her. Then she went on to tell me to never censor my artwork. She insisted that the joining of her thighs were just as much artful as the rest of herself. There will be enough people to try to do it for me that I don't need to help them. There was a story behind all that, as I discovered soon after.

What other nudes do I enjoy? Serial work. I enjoy shooting a series and noting the changes over time. Doing a series of how the body changes from one moment to the next is fascinating to me. It can be changes in age, like I've done with Kayci.Lee, shooting her since she was 23. Or it can be postpartum changes like I've done with Panda. Even changes in looks throughout a single day can have profound impacts on art creation. The body is extraordinary. I already mentioned loving to do sleeping nudes. That's capturing a part of a model that's rarely seen... I think. I do that whenever I can.

Art Model, @Athena Demos ©2019 Terrell Neasley

What is the best art nude photo you have ever seen, that is not yours? Art Nude Photographer, Dave Rudin took an image of Carlota Champagne in the Nevada Deserts and it is still the best photo that has ever been taken, nude or otherwise.

This all goes far deeper than I can get into in a single blog post. That would be impossible. I've had some people become upset because they don't understand why I might run into a landscape that is so beautiful, but I can't take the shot. It was because my vision for it calls for a nude and there wasn't one available. I don't care. It matters little to me that other people might become frustrated with regards to what I do or do not shoot. They've not taken the time to understand or even ask. So be it. 

Art Model, @Athena Demos ©2019 Terrell Neasley

I am indebted and grateful to all the models who have trusted me and allowed me to exhibit them in my art. I am enthusiastically appreciative of those who have elected to join me on this life journey around the world. Kayci.Lee helped me to simply get started on this journey right after a trio of difficult personal life events... the Vegas shooting, the death of a close friend, and a 4-year relationship breakup.

Jennifer came along during the absolute most devastating time of my life the following year when my brother had just recently died. ABSOLUTE MOST DEVASTATING! [Dang! Jenny! Do you remember meeting that guy on the night of my late brother's birthday who introduced himself with the same name as my brother?? He felt like shit and then proceed to get me drunk on Pisco Sours. Fuck, I'm still tearing up over that, now...] 

WHEW! Anyway! And meeting Athena was one of the most fortuitous experiences I can recall in recent memory. That was an experience in enlightenment. It's all been about timing. Take either of these 3 out of my life equation and I'm a mess. Okay, that is all.

13 May 2020

My Top 3 Passions Part 1 - Portraiture

Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley
I have three primary photography loves in my life. They are the reason I have never been burnt out in the 15 years I've taken photo seriously. Once I bit into it, I've never had to leave photography and come back to it later. I have always had a camera. I didn't care if the money wasn't coming in and for years I would not even accept payment. I guarded my passion in that way so I never let it become a job until I was ready to turn pro.

I began as a purist with film shooting my Minolta Maxxum 70 before seeing a Jerry Uelsmann book in a Vegas library and then jumping in with both feet by purchasing the Canon Elan 7NE kit and the 75-300mm MEGAZOOM lens. I have never looked back or regretted spending thousands on a camera body or lens. After shooting a myriad of different genres and subjects like cars, diamonds, apparel, fashion, weddings, and events, I always come back to these three arts to soothe my soul and calm my mind. The Portraiture, The Nude, And Landscape. This blog post covers Part 1: The Portraiture.

Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley
It's the human face. That's where it all began for me. Back when I was maybe 5 years old, my Uncle Ulice Ray asked me to take a photo of him and his friends. All I had to do was hit the button on this instant film camera and I think it may have even had flash cubes. That was a big deal for me. I knew I had to get it right. I looked through the viewfinder and could see everybody in the scene. I hit the button and waited those daunting few minutes until the reveal while my uncle fanned the photo back and forth. The look on his face told me I had failed. I cut off everyone's head and did not understand why.

I have always been intrigued with people's faces. They are all different. Even identical twins, because despite the similarities, no two people experience life the same. Life will leave a mark on you and that is different for everyone. In addition, the same experience is perceived by individuals differently. The camera gives me an opportunity to read the story in a person's life. It may not give me the details, but it still tells me a story as if I'm watching a movie or reading a book. The difference is, I get to record that story and tell my version of it.

Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley
The first thing the portrait illustrates is the beauty potential in every story that crosses my viewfinder. An aging face, a dirty face, a baby's face all have their own potential that demonstrate the power of persistence and survival, effort and achievement, or growth and change. In addition, I am a fan of evolution. Time of day and time of season may present a different perspective from one moment to the next. A man or woman can have one face to start the day and then give me a different story at the end of the day. One of optimism and expectation in the morning. Another face of weariness, yet satisfaction, all in a state of dishevel later that evening. And understand me, there is something great there.

I have done portraits of life and death... of the young and the old. I can tell you that a measure of healing was afforded to parents of a deceased newborn or baby. I was able to find the beauty in this art form and capture a portrait that allowed them to see their baby in more than just the perspective of sorrow and loss. I say this illustratively, not boastfully. I'm sharing my experience as a 5-year volunteer photographer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, an organization that does remembrance photography for parents who loose a baby. Thankfully, I know my limitations. Five years was enough for me. I invite you to pick up the challenge for a while.

Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley
Portraits are evidences of life, whether life present or life that once was. Life can be expressed through art in a myriad of ways. They don't have to all be happy smiles. They don't even have to be stoic blank faces. Human emotions are an infinite analog range of feelings and this gives you unlimited options of capture opportunities from each face you encounter. Anger, sadness, joy, a smirk, absent-mindedness, looking into the lens vs looking out of frame, candids, and even a sleeping portrait (a favorite of mine) can all convey something powerful. There is a different story in each.

I love that the portrait is not restricted solely to the face. You can back up! It can be a portrait bust or even full-body. One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received was from travel editor. He wanted to use one of my shots in a travel mag. After looking further through my portfolio, he told me that no one needs to teach me anything else about capturing a portrait (his words not mine).

Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley
HOWEVER, if I'm doing travel photography, it would behoove me to step back and master the environmental portrait. It made all the sense in the world. I had to regroup and think about my travel lens choices, depth of field choices, and poses. Ordinarily, posing is much more simple when its from the bust and up. Posing the whole body can be more challenging for your subject. What do they do with their hands? How do they shift weight or (balance on both feet)? Is my gut sucked in enough?

Another thing the portrait shows me is that it's not fair for me to negatively judge another human being. The story a portrait tells you might be one of a destitute past or someone in desperation. I understand this one simple fact. There, but by the grace of God, go I. In other words, I can be in that same person's shoes inside of a day. Be grateful and compassionate to everyone. Conversely, just because someone looks like a success, they may be more miserable than you are. This might cause you to mis-identify with your client or subject. Now they see you as someone who can't relate to them and you are not rehired or recommended. If you are snapping pics, you have a job. If you are creating art, then you must understand that the art is a relationship. It's a form of communication between your subject and yourself. If you are not relatable, you can easily come across as obscure, ambiguous, or even hostile. The story you capture will be fiction at best.

Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley
Via my travels, I get to pass through different lands and see different people. I've become intrigued by the cultural differences of the faces I see. In a sense, I've become anthropological. No, not "in a sense". That's a point of fact. I get a chance to see the differences [from mine] dictated by what region of the world their ancestors originated from. It's glorious. It's like you grow up loving roses and are taught "Roses are Red" and then you leave home and learn there are also 150 different species of roses and thousands of variations. The Vietnamese do not look like me. But, beneath the environmental evolution that alters the skin and superficial features, they are exactly like me. Any doctor here in Vietnam will be perfectly familiar with my anatomy if they have to cut me open. They don't have to look it up or google the location to find the heart of a black man.

Everybody has a story that is different from yours but no less worthy of respect. This is what I love about portraiture. It's therapy for me. I see the spirit of human resolve when I look in someone's face. I know they conquered something in order to stand in front of my lens. They persisted and have survived the challenges life has thrown at them and this is their story... as I see and tell it.

“I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did... most of whom were murdered or put in prison... but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so.”
~ Gordon Parks

06 May 2020

Vietnam is Coming Alive Again


"Vietnam's economy could boom thanks to fast coronavirus response"
~ Axios, May 4, 2020 - Economy & Business, Dion Rabouin

On April 23, 2020 the government of Vietnam rescinded the lockdown mandate across the nation. People slowly came back to the streets. The hotel where I'm residing opened it's coffee shop and for the first time in almost 2 months the chairs have come down from being stacked on top of the tables which have been pushed to the sides along the wall. Customers populate the sitting area and enjoy a foamy caramel macchiato alone with laptops and cell phones or chatting with friends. Hanoi had come alive again.

I hope it's not too soon. In the last three weeks, there has been one new case and that came from a British Oil expert who flew in for a project, but was immediately put on quarantine upon arrival. So he had no contact with the public. I can hear the distinct difference in pedestrian traffic from my hotel room. And when I go down stairs, the coffee shop is most always packed with visitors. It has always been open. It never closed down fully, but customers could not take a seat and only 5 or so were allowed in at a time. And when you placed your order, you had to stand in circles that were 6 feet apart and you had better be wearing a mask.


I have been in this particular hotel for about 6 weeks and I had no idea what many of the staff looked like until recently, as I have caught them sometimes without a mask. The lady that cleans my room or the one that brings my breakfast, initially left it on a stool at the door. Now they knock and bring my tray inside my room and set it down for me, sometimes wearing a mask... sometimes not, but always with a smile.

I am waiting on my visa extension approval to be processed. These are done through 3rd party travel agencies instead of the official government immigration office, although I have no idea why. I was told it would take 7 to 12 working days for my 3-month single entry visa extension. The going rate is $360, which is twice what I paid for my initial 3-month visa which was muli-entry. But whatevs... I'll deal with it, if that's what is required. Unless they are quicker, I have another week before I can expect it to be processed.


The company which is processing my visa extension says I should be good to go as long as I have broken no laws. I haven't been anywhere to break any laws. If she's correct, my visa will extend until August. I currently have no plans to go anywhere! The thought crossed my mind to try to do Sa Pa and the border villages I initially tried to do mid-March before all that got shut down and Sa Pa kicked everybody out. I would still like to get more pics of Vietnam.

I am also keeping an eye out for Thailand and Cambodia to see how they are handling this pandemic. Nobody in this region is doing as well as Vietnam, but I still have to chart my way around the world. It feels like a game of hopscotch where I may have to skip over a country here and there. Cambodia only has one month visas. That may not be doable for me. Laos is the same, but you can extend for 60 more. Ninety days is what I'm generally looking for. I am not traveling fast.

Congratulations, Vietnam!


Latest Updates:

  • Vietnam’s early border restrictions and social distancing measures have helped the country avoid a large wave of infections.
  • Despite sharing a land border with China where the coronavirus first emerged, Vietnam has reported just 271 cases and no deaths in a population under 100 million. It has not reported any new local cases in nearly three weeks.
  • Vietnam’s success in containing the virus is attributed to decisive measures the country made early in the outbreak, building off its experience with SARS in 2003. Back then, it was the first country to be removed from a list of countries with local transmissions, according to the World Health Organization.

10 April 2020

I Switched to Tamron for My Wide Perspectives

City Park in Hanoi, Vietnam  F/8, 1/50th, ISO 400
"Adventure may hurt you but monotony will kill you."
~ Unknown

I think that quote is one you can feel me on. Am I right? Who's going crazy in quarantine right now?

Okay, on with my story...

During my travel adventures, I can't take everything I own. I have to make choices on what I bring because in the end, it all has to be carried on my back. Weight is one of the largest considerations of my around the world travel.

I cannot say the Tamron 24mm 2.8 is better than the Sigma 20mm 1.4. But I can say that at a quarter of the weight, the difference becomes negligible. Don't misread me. I will not sacrifice quality. If there was a quality drop off that I felt affected my art, that would be a no-go. If the added benefit were not worth it, it would be a no-go.

f/2.8, 1/30th, ISO 1600... Art Model, Chaise ©2020 Terrell Neasley 
The Sigma 20mm f/1.4 is an excellent piece of glass. I'd put it up against anything in its class. But the thing is 2 pounds! Two pounds may not sound like a lot, but keep it in your camera bag strapped around your neck all day and then come talk to me again. I carried it and shot with it for almost a year and it served me well. I had no thoughts on switching until my friend Lucy told me about Tamron's new line-up... the 20mm, 24mm, and 35mm, all f/2.8 with macro capabilities. I got an opportunity to stop into Vegas on my way to Vietnam and see this for myself.

I came to Las Vegas to gear up, since I do not expect to be back stateside for a number of years. REI and B&C Camera was the only places I visited and that's when Lucy showed me what the Tamron could do. I held it and could barely feel anything in my hands. I shot with it and could find no fault. I tried to force some chromatic aberration and color fringing into it and could not. And then the price! I think it was $350... you gotta be kidding me! And it still had Auto Focus. You can't get a descent wide-angle Rokinon manual focus lens for that much.

Non-edited High Res, shot RAW and converted to JPG only. f/11, 1/50th, ISO 100 
I jumped on the deal and have not looked back. The only temptation I had to resist was getting the 24mm OR the 20mm. I went back and forth initially on which one to get and then Lucy suggested getting both. I so almost did it! But my sensible side told me the focal difference would not be significant enough to justify a 4mm differentiation. I decided on the 24mm since it was still a wide-angle, but it had less distortion (BTW, Photoshop recognizes the lens profile and  automatically corrects for this). I still get significant vignettes on the corners, particularly in low light (and it corrects for that, too!) at f/2.8. I sacrificed a 1.4 for a 2.8. That's two whole friggin' stops. But you know what? That true 1:2 macro capability is real. I'm under 5" on a minimum focusing distance and I can't get that on my Sony 90mm 1:1 macro, (which is in storage).

Center Square Cropped at 100%. Tack sharp
I can't say I've gotten to really test this thing out under ideal conditions. I got it and left Vegas like, the next day. And since arriving in Vietnam, well there's this thing happening all over the world that has limited my outdoors activities, but I've gotten a few shots with it. I don't have many shots at 100 ISO as most of the images I took were at night or during foggy days.

Lower Right Corner Cropped at 100%. Mild distortion and vignetting
It can be slow to Auto Focus on certain compositions, but even at night, I got it to lock every single time. When it does have to hunt in low contrast situations, I think it is noisy. The Sony 85mm 1.4 GM is the noisiest lens I've ever owned, but this Tamron is nothing like that. But be aware of it when doing video.

I was surprised as hell to see the front elements retracting inside the barrel when it auto focused. I strongly advise a UV filter on top of it just to ensure you keep dust out of it. Specs say it's moisture resistant and keeps out dust. Get a filter, anyway. It has a plasticy feel to it, which contributes to the light weight... but you can still tell it's durable. I've yet to test it on astro work since I have yet to even see any stars. I'll wrap it up to just say this thing suits me. It's just what I need. If speed becomes an issue, I may look at some other options, but right now, this thing works. Thanks, Lucy! Check out B&C Camera for your photography, video, and all you content creation accessory needs. I love those guys. They have free shipping on all their orders right now. Catch them for some deals!

06 April 2020

Quarantined in Hanoi, Vietnam

Heading out to the next hotel
Latest Updates:
  • As of April 6, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 241 cases of COVID-19. The updated number was an increase of just one additional case as of April 6 morning in the past 24 hours.
  • Vingroup, Vietnam’s large conglomerate, plans to produce around 55,000 ventilators a month to combat COVID-19.
  • Authorities have submitted a proposal to delay tax and land lease deadlines for a number of industries from real estate to labor services affected by COVID-19.
  • Hanoi city authorities stated they would intensify the social distancing rules and fine people who were out for non-essential reasons. In addition, ride-hailing motorbike services have also been temporarily suspended in Hanoi.
  • Vietnam imported 200,000 rapid test kids from South Korea to carry out mass testing.

I was identified for possible contact exposure via Coronavirus Case #237 after I arrived at this new hotel. He stayed one night at my last hotel while I was there, but I never interacted with him. Nonetheless, my current hotel and the local government sent me paperwork ordering me to quarantine myself in my room. They send me paperwork to record my temperature twice a day. Today, April 7th is my official last day to do this, but I believe I will volunteer for one additional week. The mandatory shelter in place is still effective until the 15th. I figure it won't do any harm. I am well cared for and have everything I need. And I think it will help make the staff here comfortable being around me.


I'm taking every day one at a time and figuring it out as I go. This obviously won't be the type of trip I counted on. At some point, I'll have to cross over into Cambodia and I hope they have their situation contained. They currently have about 114 cases, but the borders are closed. I'll have to head down that way soon, through central and South Vietnam and over the border. I have't checked into Laos yet, but that may be an even better option. I don't know. 

A few people have asked what the weather is like here. It ranges between 65 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take 5 degrees in either direction. Many days there is a low lying fog over the cityscape. I can leave my windows open during the day to freshen the air and turn the AC off if it's not too hot. The traffic outside is consistent during the day, but it's not blaring traffic with a lot of horns, nor is there much smog or exhaust fumes, despite being on a busy street. I can look down and see some pedestrians, but there is not much on any given day. 

Watching the Dragonball Z, "Perfect Cell Saga" with some seafood spaghetti and spring rolls. 
Though many people here can speak English it is sometimes a challenge to understand English phrases. It's particularly more difficult on quarantine where I cannot speak face to face with anyone and I don't have the benefit of Google Translate on my cell phone to show them. For instance, it proved difficult to get a lady to understand that I wanted a sandwich with double the meat, not two sandwiches. They call the sandwiches "bread", for some reason. Not sandwich. They had a chicken sandwich. It was hella bread and little meat. So I asked for one sandwich with double the amount of meat. I tried many different iterations of that before it finally clicked. 

Another time, I requested my temperature monitoring paperwork which is supposed to be delivered in the morning and afternoon. They were late one afternoon and when I requested it, she thought I was referring to toilet paper. Then she thought I wanted paper for me to WORK on. But, I don't lose patience. I find a different way to say it. 

"I'm on quarantine, right?"
"Yes."
"And I need to take my temperature."
"Okay."
"Yes... so I need the paper to record my daily temperature on that I get every morning and afternoon."
"AHHH!! YES! Sorry, we will bring it up to you, right away."

They have all been good to me and have treated me kindly. Even though I don't know the language, I'm still learning a lot about communication. I can easily put myself in their shoes. I've been there. AND they know a ton more of my language despite me knowing ZERO of theirs, despite being in THEIR country, not mine. Respect. 



27 March 2020

How the Coronavirus Has Affected My RTW Backpacking Trip


By far, this has been my strangest experience in any country I've visited. Not so much for the country itself, but because of this world pandemic that's locked up the planet. I think at some point I'm going to have to come back here and do this country all over again, because I know I'm missing the beauty I came here for.

As it turns out, however, I am really thinking I couldn't be in a better place, though. Honestly! Vietnam has been on top of this this Covid-19 Coronavirus since the beginning. They only had 17 confirmed positive cases as of early March and 16 of those were already treated, cured, and released from the hospital. They were almost able to declare Coronavirus-free. Then a couple of cases got through from someone traveling through Europe and in hardly 10 days, that rose to over 130. Comparatively, that's still quite a low number. 130 cases, 0 deaths. Today, I think that number is about 160. They do this by keeping the public informed with a solid government coordinated effort. No mixed messages. Then they test, test, and test. After that, they treat. So far, I've only seen them take decisive, definitive, and quick actions as a country. Europe has not done this. The US has not done this. Vietnam has deployed a relative low-tech approach.

"An Italian woman living in an area badly impacted by coronavirus admits: 'We expected other countries that are much closer to China to be in this situation before us so we just joked about it' " - Business Insider

I arrived in country on Feb 10th after getting my 3-month Visa in the mail a week or so before that. I exited the country via San Francisco and had a 9 hour wait until my next connection to Taiwan. For the first time in my life, I experienced the USO lounge I'm going to have to do another blog post on those guys because they made that half-day wait worth it!

Sa Pa countryside. Behind me is where it got steep and slippery. ©2020 Terrell Neasley
I got to Vietnam a day earlier than my visa was for. They gave me a problem at first and told me I'd have to wait in the airport until tomorrow. I didn't even trip. I looked homeboy in the eyes and said, "Dude. I need to talk to your boss, if you can't work something." I had a driver waiting to take me to my hotel. It had been a long day... 26 hours of travel. I had no time for BS. Dude made it easy and just backdated my visa. Now I have to leave the country a day earlier than my visa says. Simple. I'll take that. It's still 90 days.

To take the fight to coronavirus, Vietnam instituted rigorous quarantine policies, and carried out complete tracing of all people who came in contact with the virus. These measures were implemented much earlier in the course of the epidemic than in China, where lockdowns of entire cities were used as a last resort to keep the virus from spreading further.

For a month, I stayed in the Canary Hanoi Hotel and got to know those people. They were initially bewildered because I didn't do a lot of sight-seeing or adventures. But I was doing just as I set out. I wanted a whole month on my ass in one spot, to let my knee heal up and rest. I'm still dealing with that Vincinguerra Glacier hike I did in Ushuaia, Argentina. I am literally conscious of every step I take.

After that month, I began to feel better. I booked a train ticket to Sa Pa, further up north by the border. I was looking to do some LEVEL hiking or at least minimal elevation. Yeah. No. The train stopped in Lao Cai, next to the border. Then I had a one-hour shuttle ride to my hotel in Sa Pa. That was an hour of  continuous elevation gain. And my hotel was at one of the highest points. So going ANYWHERE meant a straight down walk and back up again. It was like I was back in Ushuaia! But I was determined to get something. I needed this. I had spent a month in my hotel and I needed to shoot.

Leaving Sa Pa. Rice planting season is just getting started. ©2020 Terrell Neasley
I was there for a week and I had 1 full day of no fog or cloud cover. Not cloud in the sky... cloud in your face. You could see maybe 30 feet before your vision became obscured. I thought I'd make the best of it anyway and picked a site on the map to hike to. A waterfall. Looked simple. I got maybe two miles, left the paved roads, and had just entered the trail between farmlands. I passed people tending their vegetables in the fields, in the mist. I got to the edge where it got really steep. It had rained the previous day, and in that mud... for a split second, I lost my footing. I didn't bust my ass! But in the process of arresting my fall, I did a little twist on that knee. It was reactionary. Couldn't help it.

So then I had to hump it back up that hill on that knee. Had to sit my butt down again. My plan was to tour 3 cities around the border. I had 4 more days until I would book a shuttle bus to Ha Giang for a week or so then one more trip to Cao Bang. Then Coronavirus came to Sa Pa. Two Germans brought it and infected some people in Cat Cat Village... not near me, thankfully. That was all she wrote! The local government shut down Sa Pa for quarantine. I got the notice at 11:30pm that I had to check out the next morning by 8am.

Hồ Bảy Mẫu... Seven Acre Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley

That was cool. It put me in a bind. But locals are becoming wary of foreigners. They petitioned the local gov't to do something. It took less than a day. So I was gratefully on a bus back to Hanoi, not really sure what was there either. I was hearing about so many closures. I did not want to continue on to Ha Giang and make people uncomfortable wondering if I was bringing infection to their village. So bowed out of that notion and returned to the place where at least somebody knows me... Canary Hanoi Hotel. They welcomed me back for a little more than a week. Then things changed there, too. Without foreign visitor reservations, they needed to shut it down. But they sent me out in grand style. They invited me to a party, made me the guest of honor and made me promise to return when they open in 30 days. I plan to do just that.

And then those good people connected me with their partner hotel, much bigger, more grand, and a room twice the size, but so far, I prefer Canary. I am here at Halais Hotel just around the corner. I'll do my month here and return to Canary. My visa is up May 10th. I will request an extension soon in another week or so for another 3 months, which will put me here until August. If I am fortunate to be allowed to stay, I'll do just about all that time right here in Hanoi. I'm not going anywhere if I don't have to. I want to stay as long as I can before trying to enter Cambodia. I'm cool with sitting right here, reading, writing, and keeping myself occupied. There is plenty of toilet paper and food everywhere. And it's definitely much cheaper staying here in Vietnam. Pray I get that extension!

Hồ Bảy Mẫu... Seven Acre Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam ©2020 Terrell Neasley
I wear a mask when I go outside. Not because I think I need to, but rather to help make people comfortable being around me, serving me, or interacting with me for whatever reason that might be necessary. Today, a man saw me, he wasn't wearing a mask. I was just walking by and he immediately put a mask on and actively avoided me like a shy child hiding behind his mother's skirt. I just rolled my eyes, waved, and kept going.

I'm grateful that I am stable and safe, but I still feel for my family, peers, and countrymen back home and through out the States that have to scramble like they are in some Mad Max Zombie movie. Big-Ups and mad respect to those healthcare workers that stay the course fighting the hours while ill-equipped. The mailmen, the grocery store workers, and all those who are providing those essential services for $15 an hour. I'd better stop. That's not the subject matter I want to go deep on in this post.

Streets of Hanoi. Around 2am. ©2020 Terrell Neasley
A few nights ago, I set out at 2am just to go walk the streets. I was only gone for a hour. I walked a 2 and a half mile triangle though the city. I looked for alleys and there was one train track that went into this village section of the city. I think I got some decent shots. I enjoyed myself, despite getting scolded the next morning for not being safe. But I was cool. As of today, the Government of Hanoi or Vietnam... not sure which, has told everyone to stay inside for two weeks.

I'll keep you updated on my progress, efforts, and happenings. In the meantime, take care of yourselves. Wash your hands. Think about what you do and how it affects other people, but protect yourselves. There are assholes out and about right now.

27 March 2020 Latest Updates - 1.5 persons per million infection rate in Vietnam. (US is 285 people per million.)
  • As of March 27, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 153 cases of COVID-19. However, 20 of the affected patients have recovered. Zero deaths.
  • Vietnam has banned the gathering of more than 20 people for at least two weeks from March 28 and temporarily shut down services like massage parlors, tourist sites, and cinemas nationwide. In addition, major cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Can Tho and Da Nang would need to temporarily shut down all service facilities except for food, pharmacy, and medical treatment services.
  • The government has also prohibited the gathering of more than 10 people outside offices, schools, and hospitals. 
  • Authorities have made it mandatory for all travelers to declare their medical status on domestic flights and public transport.
  • Authorities in Hanoi on March 25 ordered the closure of non-essential businesses like bars, night clubs, movie theaters, and karaoke clubs until May 4. Necessities like food, medicine, and fuel stations will remain open.